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Young woman bracing herself to stop from fainting.

Fainting in Children: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

By Dr. Jonathan Fleenor, Cardiology

Fainting, or syncope, is a brief loss of consciousness that occurs when there is not enough blood getting to the brain usually due to a drop in blood pressure.

Whether or not the cause is known, fainting can be a frightening experience for you and your child. The good news is that fainting is common among teenagers, usually lasts just a few seconds, and doesn’t normally signal a life-threatening issue.

While it is rare for fainting to be caused by a heart or neurological disorder, especially in children, it is important to understand what may be causing your child’s fainting episodes and how you can help.

Vasovagal Syncope (Neurocardiogenic Syncope or Autonomic Dysregulation)

Generally a harmless condition that is self-limiting and only lasts for a few seconds to minutes. This condition is most common in pre-teens and teenagers and is caused by an acute drop in blood pressure and heart rate.

Children typically have a warning that a faint is about to happen with symptoms of dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, blurred vision, muffled hearing, sweating, paleness, fatigue, or confusion.

Some common triggers include intense emotion such as fear, stress, pain, the sight of blood, illness, dehydration, anemia, and overexposure to heat.

Heart Rhythm Problem (Arrhythmia)

An arrhythmia is a heart rate that is too slow (bradycardia), too fast (tachycardia), or too irregular to keep enough blood flow to the body, including the brain. This is a fairly rare cause of syncope, especially in children.

Symptoms of an arrhythmia may include heart palpitations, pounding in the chest, dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, or fatigue. There may also be no symptoms at all.

Structural Heart Disease (Muscle or Valve Defects)

Problems with the heart muscle or one or more of the heart valves may cause a decrease of blood flow to the body, including the brain, which could result in fainting.

Structural heart diseases are congenital, meaning present at birth. Problems with the heart muscle (cardiomyopathies), however, can develop over time.

Symptoms of structural heart disease depend on the condition and patient. The most common symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, high blood pressure, poor feeding and growth, leg cramps, arrhythmia, fatigue, kidney dysfunction, and mini strokes or strokes.

How You Can Help

If your child is experiencing symptoms associated with fainting, or has already fainted, you can help by loosening tight clothing, giving them space, and making sure they are in a well-ventilated area. Wipe their face with a cool washcloth, and don’t let them stand or walk for a few minutes or until their symptoms subside and they’re feeling better.

If your child seems like they’re about to faint, have them lie or sit down. If they’ve already fainted, lie them flat on the ground with their feet slightly elevated for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t move your child if you suspect an injury from the fall.


Help prevent fainting by making sure children:

  • Drink plenty of water or hydrating fluids, especially when it is hot outside or during physical activity. For lower blood pressure salty foods or snacks can also be helpful.
  • Pay close attention to warning signs like dizziness, or visual changes so they can sit or lie down before the fainting episode occurs.
  • Avoid caffeine and energy drinks.
  • Eat regular healthy meals and don’t skip meals.
  • Get regular exercise and sleep.
  • Take frequent breaks by moving around when sitting or standing for long periods.
  • Breathe slowly into a paper bag if they are anxious and hyperventilating.
  • Avoid environments that are hot, crowded, or stuffy.

When to Seek Emergency Care

You should contact your child’s healthcare provider about any fainting spell. However, get emergency medical care for your child if they:

  • Faint and may have injured themselves while falling.
  • Have difficulty seeing, moving, or speaking.
  • Experience chest pain or arrhythmia.
  • Have a seizure.
  • Were physically active when it happened.

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About Children's Specialty Group

About Children's  Specialty Group Children's Specialty Group is the only pediatric multi-specialty practice serving southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The physicians of Children's Specialty Group base their practices at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters and serve as faculty in the Department of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Learn more about our specialists here.